Press Release
March 20, 2023

Senator Risa Hontiveros with FOCAP members
Makati Diamond Residences
20 March 2023

Question: Inaudible (difference of her role as an opposition during the Duterte admin and the Marcos admin)

Senator Risa Hontiveros (SRH): ......predatory or violent or sexist and misogynistic or obviously - at least for some of us - traitorous in terms of bowing to China, and stepping away from upholding the Philippines' victory at the Hague, and more obviously deliberately targeting to weaken democratic institutions and centralize power in the Executive as the primary if not the sole center of power in what should be a system of separate and coequal branches of government, making Philippine democracy -as it was then as Nathan Quimpo described it - even more a contested democracy.

But the previous administration and that kind of politics and governance - and that very hostile environment in which we have to function and survive and still do our jobs as opposition - actually also paved the way for this next or current administration. And in the current administration though it is seemingly less than what the previous administration was in terms of those descriptors, it's still because of it seeming part two of the previous martial law dictatorship administration, reawakens unfinished business also from the past of the human rights violations, the plunder and then the more recent unfinished business from the previous administration.

One new element though, is the current president's seeming risk aversion conflict aversion and so his presidency is being felt more in the breach on too many issues. He didn't show up for the presidential debates and he still remains a cipher on too many issues way past the first 100 days and as I mentioned already into the first quarter of this year, so already closing on the first year of this administration.

So that current situation where too many things have remained the same but some things seemed to have maybe have changed , also calls on us in the opposition to adjust because the terms of engagement some of them seemed to have changed, but some of the terms of engagement still seem to be opaque or still evolving very slowly, or perhaps with even less transparency especially on the economic issue. So it calls on us to try to define, determine those terms of engagement to engage proactively and constructively, and therefore to present to the citizenry and to the electorate how we are qualitatively different and how we are offering something different.

Q: You mentioned several times about Cha Cha. What is the prospect of Cha Cha in the senate, considering you are only two in the opposition, but at the same time, Senate President Migz Zubiri said it's not a priority on the other hand, the lower chamber, the House of Representatives keeps on pushing for it?

SRH: Indeed Senate President Zubiri echoed what the President said that Charter Change is not a top priority, I don't know if it means it's still a priority but it's at least it's not a top priority and as far as we can tell in the minority, Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel and I are not alone in opposing Charter Change, are not alone in opposing for example, amendments at this time, further amendments through Charter Change of the section on the national economy and patrimony. We are to debate on that point through legislation for now.

Minority leader Pimentel and I are not alone in saying No to Charter Change at the moment and we are not alone in favoring constitutional convention if and when the time for constitutional reform comes around as the best mode. My sense is that even the majority of the Majority senators are not about charter change right now. You have to ask them to validate that sense of mind of ours in the Senate Minority but I don't see anyone leaning for it. I don't see anyone wanting to accelerate the process or to complete it within this Congress.

It's on the basis of various principles as it is for Senate Minority Leader Koko and me, and also on the basis of and this is also a principle because it has to do with the form of government and the structure of government. It's also an institutional threat to the Senate that we will be deleted from the Constitution and from the political structure and right now, as in the past, several growing number of years, not only because we are members of the Senate but we do appreciate that the Senate has at critical moments stood for its independence as an institution and has stood up vis-a-vis the Executive or the Judiciary to exert our power and to fulfill our mandate as a separate or co-equal branch of the government.

Q: Ma'am, you have always been an outspoken critic of the former President Duterte's drug war and recently the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin. What do you think are the implications of this ruling on the ICC's probe on former President Duterte and as well as what are its effects, do you think, on President Marcos' continued decision to protect his ally from a looming ICC investigation?

SRH: I think that this recent and very welcome action of the ICC vis-a-vis Russian President Putin could not simplify matters for our president, could make matters more complicated for him as he seeks to consolidate his administration or balance the interests or even the movements and dynamics by and among the different groups or factions that make up his ruly coalition or his administration. Because of course, the person most implicated by that warrant issued against Putin is a close family member of his close official, remember?

And I think some comfort, in sorry to say, the President's discomfort, but from his Justice Secretary who early on said some positive things in the direction of the ICC that he would not out of compliance but out of comity or courtesy provide information to the ICC somewhere along the road, even if that same justice secretary has also said other things, and the president said negative things about the ICC.

But it's always interesting at the very least if not a sign of hope if the administration is not speaking monolithically about this very important issue and I think the implication also is that though the former president took us out of the ICC, we are still a part of the international community, for example, in the United Nations.

I'm still hoping we'll go back to be a signatory of the Rome Statute, but even while we're still outside the ICC, we are a member of the international community, and that stunning warrant against Russian President Putin, for which there are precedents, like what happened in the former Yugoslavia, when the later leadership decided to surrender Milosevic.

The fact that though Russia and Ukraine are both not members of the ICC but Kyiv has recognized its jurisdiction, can only encourage or embolden if not the President immediately, other parts of the political system, to somehow take a more favorable or open stance vis-a-vis the ICC, because we always like to say that the arc of the moral universe but it bends towards justice. Given the slow-paced still - always admirable, when there are rulings in favor of the family of Kian de los Santos or the families of Carl Arnaiz and the little boy Kulot - still those are three at least 6,000 or at most 30,000 killings in seven years. It will take it thousands of years to do it on our own so all help is welcome, including and especially from the ICC.

Q: You've investigated POGOs in the past in your committee and the scams.. I understand Sen. Win's committee also did an investigation. I thought there should be a committee report.. Have you seen the report and do you agree with the report?

SRH: There is actually already a committee report from the committee of Sen. Sherwin, and I signed it and will interpellate it. And also, in order to type up some of its findings and recommendations with those already included in the committee report of the Committee on Women, when we investigated POGO-related prostitution, illegal recruitment and detention, the pastillas scam, and also the early stages of POGO-related human trafficking.

Including earlier investigations of Senate Committees on tax evasion, which was also reflected in Sen. Sherwin's committee report and one other earlier committee report, before that of the Committee on Women. So I do agree with the findings of Sen. Sherwin's committee report about tax evasion and tax accountabilities until today and I do agree with his committee report's recommendation to close down POGO operations. In fact, it was a very ambitious, even rapid, target embodied in the committee report, to close it down in three months, so by interpellating it when it comes to plenary, I'll just like to expand on the committee findings and recommendations to tie them up with what we have continued now to investigate in terms of human trafficking, not so much POGO-related anymore, but related to the link between human trafficking and cryptoscamming or what in the west is called pig butchering.

Q: Do you mean total closure of the POGO industry? Is that the recommendation?

SRH: As I understand that is the same recommendation in Sen. Sherwin's committee report, as the Committee on Women made in our committee report and continue to make today.

Q: How about your colleagues in the Senate? Do they also support it?

SRH: I couldn't tell you right now if the balance of forces is or the mapping would show that if the committee report comes to a vote, if it would be supported already, but I am hopeful that it would be because since the earlier investigations, especially on the Committee on Women, which ran over two years and which invited parallel investigations of the National Bureau of Investigation of the Bureau of Immigration itself and even of the Office of the Ombudsman, and so disciplinary actions are being taken and cases filed against though just low-level and mid-level, members of the Bureau of Immigration.

Since then, there's been a growing number of members of the Senate, including of the majority, who have spoken up to say enough, enough of the POGO. So I'm hopeful that if that recommendation of Sen. Sherwin as embodied in the committee report comes to a vote, that we may have a yes vote.

Q: Is it correct to understand that there are still senators who support the continuation of the POGO industry despite your investigation and Sen. Win's?

SRH: I can't tell for sure today, until we start the interpellations but if there are, then probably they have their reasons, maybe a few or one are or is a good reason. But I will certainly push and I'm confident that Sen. Sherwin will push and I'm hopeful that more of my colleagues will push really for the closure of the POGOs. That they should pay their taxes owed to government and just get out here.

Q: May we get your reaction to the Cagayan government's continued insistence that it doesn't want the presence of US troops in its shores? Amb. Romualdez earlier said that it is likely that Cagayan is negotiating for Chinese investments that if they allowed US troops it will be in jeopardy? And second question, should the president name the four additional sites already under EDCA?

SRH: We actually asked that question of the Dept. of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines, when we held an executive session briefing and an open hearing, but even in the executive session and certainly in the hearing, they hued to the official position that the location of the sites, the additional sites, is still under negotiation between the Philippines and the US and therefore they are not yet revealing and I suppose also for security reasons.

But there's nothing wrong with negotiating for Chinese investments, as long as they follow Philippine laws and as long as they're not in critical industries that are reserved or I think, some of us think, to Filipino investors or even to the public domain under government, such as telecoms, energy, and such, and especially while Beijing still refuses to recognize the Hague ruling, while she has not paid what she owes us in terms of the environmental damage she reaped in our oceans while she continues to harass our fisherfolk, and even harass Philippine navy and coast guard vessels and personnel in our territory.

So there's nothing wrong with negotiating for any foreign investments for that matter, as long as they are according to Philippine law, and they are taking place in the context of mutual respect in terms of foreign relations between our two countries. If that is the situation in Cagayan, aside from that it is okay to negotiate for foreign investments according to Philippine law.

I did say when the issue of additional EDCA sites came up, that consultation should be held to the affected local government units and residents, if they want or if they will accept additional foreign presence in our country, within their jurisdictions. And beyond that, I really believe that especially with the advances anyway in military technology, it should be sufficient and more consistent with our recent history and by recent I am referring to the 1991 "No" vote on the RP-US bases agreement and the subsequent passage of the VFA and the EDCA.

It should be sufficient to, and we do call for and would welcome more Balikatan joint naval exercises in Philippine waters, not just with the US - which I already welcome as I welcome their support for the Hague ruling - but also other countries, especially with like-minded countries of the ASEAN, the Quad and other naval powers, all of whom are interested in a rules-based approach to solving the tensions in the West Philippine Sea and in the whole South China Sea, and certainly to prevent any outbreak of any armed confrontation around Taiwan. So I think this is more in line with an interdependent foreign policy and multilateralism in our foreign policy.

Q: Ma'am before the pandemic, you were a member of that committee, you investigated the involvement of the State Grid of China (40 percent ownership of the transmission lines). Have you established that they already turned over authority to their Filipino counterparts?

SRH: They still haven't. The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, or rather the state-owned enterprise of China which owns a 40 percent stake in the NGCP has not yet turned over its share to the Philippine government or even officially, to the Filipino company that is holding a majority share in the grid. So it's of additional concern that NGCP recently entered into a memorandum of agreement with our (National Intelligence Coordinating Agency).

Because a MOA even between our highest national (intelligence) body and an ostensibly government owned and controlled corporation but which still has not just dubious but outright questionable foreign stake inside it and of a country which has been so hostile to us especially in terms of the Hague ruling, does not reassure us in anyway. If we do not resolve the fundamental issue of ownership and control, a simple MOA even with our highest national (intelligence) body would not resolve that fundamental question and might even raise further questions. Shouldn't the (NICA) put its weight behind the calls to return ownership to sole Filipino hands rather than enter into a MOA with the NGCP under these conditions?

Q: A number of countries have banned Tiktok on government devices. Do you think the Philippines should follow suit? Tiktok is incredibly popular here in the Philippines.

SRH: Woe is me since I am a late comer to Tiktok. My office has just held a Women's Month event with the Senate Gender and Development (GAD) and Tiktok and awarded three best Tiktokers from outside the Senate and from within the Senate who created content to promote gender sensitivity and women empowerment on that platform. We just opened a kind of a relationship with them.

I have had occasion to mention their company following on mentioning Facebook because we engage Facebook on recent legislation for women and children in terms of the strengthened Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and the recent Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Act where we called Facebook to account and mentioned that we will also be getting in touch with media companies including Tiktok.

It is also important for us to engage Tiktok in recent and ongoing investigation of the Committee on Women into scamming and human trafficking. TIktok is also one of the social media platforms mentioned as involved in this mesh of well crimes against persons and public crimes as well. If the investigation in this resolution or other investigations in the Senate should lead us to think about what other countries have done, then certainly we will face the question when it comes.

Q: The concern is that Tiktok has been a quasi- private and state owned company and there are concerns that through the app, China may be spying on foreign governments. Is that a concern for the Philippines?

SRH: It should be a concern for us, if we are concerned about state owned enterprises of China in our grid, in our telecoms, and our social media platforms. Yes, we should be concerned. Also because as for the Chinese state-owned enterprise in the NGCP, Chinese companies operating abroad are obliged by Chinese intelligence laws and counter-espionage laws to provide information to Beijing on request and they may not refuse. So this is actually considered by other countries as spying laws or espionage laws. It would and should be a concern for the Philippines.

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